At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Stars to pay tribute to an icon's influence
Fort Worth Business Press, April 17th

"I got pigs, I got sheep, I got cows, I got horses," she sings into the phone, recalling Lead Belly's a cappella chant before his driving 12-string guitar kicks in. "There was a certain humor in it, and it really caught my attention." It's fitting that...Read more

Solve the crisis of childhood hunger, April 16th

The Will Play for Food Foundation helps raise awareness of childhood hunger in West Michigan. Neil Jacobs. The music of Neil Jacobs. Updated: 6 mins ago. Neil Jacobs creates a unique sound using a 12 string guitar. Great eateries in West Michigan for ...Read more

Album of the week: Sarah Bethe Nelson
NOW Magazine, April 15th

Much of the power comes from subtlety and restraint: from Nelson's ever-so-slightly bowed long vowels at the end of Uneasy to the understated flute/trumpet/12-string guitar interplay that ornaments the chorus of Black Telephone. The band, made up of...Read more

Live music around the metro, April 15th

Matykowski/Brooks Duo, 7-10 p.m. Saturday. First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Ave. 244-8603. Ann Reed, The Minnesota singer-songwriter has recorded 21 CDs and toured the continent for 30-plus years with her trusty 12-string guitar. 7:30 p.m. Saturday...Read more

Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia (2015)
Something Else! Reviews, April 12th

The album's ambient title song “Hypnophobia” brings a welcome 12-string guitar to the psychedelic party mix, and then dives head long into Gardner's dream state of mind journey for all to partake in. It's kind of like Gary Wright's “Dream Weaver” for...Read more

Mountain Stage show at the Keith-Albee airing Saturday night on public radio
Huntington Herald Dispatch, April 10th

838 features several songs by the rambling Caroline Rose who came out stirring up the crowd with road-stained songs and armed - like a good gypsy-folkie should - with a tambourine, a suit-case kickdrum and a 12-string guitar that rang like silver. With...Read more

The Smiths' guitar legend Johnny Marr to publish his memoirs, just like former ...
Gloucestershire Echo, March 23rd

But one of rock's fiercest rivalries is moving to the bookshelves after it was announced The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr is following his former songwriting partner, Morrissey, and publishing his memoirs. Marr, whose trademark 12-string guitar sound...Read more

12-String Setup Secrets
Premier Guitar, February 9th

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more